April 30, 2014 / 8:24 PM / 5 years ago

Exclusive: Merck explores $15 billion-plus drug portfolio sale

A view of the Merck & Co. campus in Linden, New Jersey March 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jeff Zelevansky

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N) is considering selling a big portfolio of mature drugs that could fetch more than $15 billion, according to people familiar with the matter, as the U.S. drugmaker continues to streamline businesses to focus on high-growth areas.

Merck, which is also in the process of selling its $14 billion consumer healthcare unit, is working with an investment bank on the potential sale of the off-patent drugs, which could draw interest from generic drugmakers, the people said.

Merck’s off-patent drugs are called “diversified brands” and many are sold in emerging markets.

The sale processes underscore efforts by large drugmakers to shed smaller divisions they view as non-core so they can better focus on their mainstay products. They have shown new willingness to consider large asset swaps with rivals to exit weaker businesses and bolster core areas where they are already top players.

Sanofi SA (SASY.PA), being advised by Evercore Partners Inc (EVR.N), is also in the market with its aging drug portfolio, which could fetch between $7 billion and $8 billion, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

Representatives for Merck declined to comment. The sources asked not to be named because the matter is not public.

Both Merck and Sanofi have an extensive line-up of older products that could be carved out, following similar moves now under way at Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L) to place older products in separate divisions.

Pfizer announced last year it planned to separate its business into three units - innovative pharmaceuticals; vaccines, oncology and consumer health; and established products. The U.S. group has not ruled out a full breakup.

GSK is starting down a similar path, and CEO Andrew Witty said on Wednesday that he would consider single products or broader divestiture of its established drugs.

Reporting by Soyoung Kim, Olivia Oran in New York and Sophie Sassard in London, Additional reporting by Ransdell Pierson, Editing by Prudence Crowther and Ken Wills

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